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Montana avalanche rescue included neighborhood

Rescue officials say about 100 neighbors converged to help find three people buried Friday when an avalanche swept down a mountain in a residential area of Missoula in western Montana and crushed a house at the bottom.

"It was very chaotic but a lot of energy," said Jeff Brandt, assistant chief of operations for the Missoula Fire Department.

Scores of neighbors had already started the rescue effort when he arrived about half an hour after the slide, and some 20 professional responders helped provide focus to the effort, Brandt said. An 8-year-old boy was pulled from the snow just as he arrived, he said.

The three people remained hospitalized Saturday, a day after the avalanche slid down 4,768-foot Mount Jumbo into the northeast Missoula neighborhood, a St. Patrick Hospital spokeswoman said.

Fred Allendorf, 66, a retired professor from the University of Montana, is in serious condition while his wife, Michel Colville, is in critical condition, hospital spokeswoman JoAnn Hoven said. The boy, who hasn't been named, is in fair condition.

The avalanche was 1,800 feet long and about 300 feet wide at the crown, said Steve Karkanen, director of the Missoula-based West Central Montana Avalanche Center. It came down a 35-degree slope and was then funneled into a gully, where it picked up energy, he said.

Karkanen estimated its speed at 120 to 180 mph when it struck the house.

The couple was in the home while the boy was playing outside when the avalanche hit about 4 p.m., Brandt said. "The avalanche had completely destroyed the house, swept it completely off its foundation and crushed it," he said.

The boy's mother and sister witnessed the avalanche, but they weren't caught in it, Brandt said. The snow was 20 feet deep in places after the avalanche, Brandt said.

Rescuers determined the home was occupied when the avalanche occurred, and they formed a line and pushed probes into the snow.

Not long after Brandt arrived, Allendorf was found under about 6 feet of snow in an air pocket in the remnants of the building.

"He was panicked," Brandt said. "He had been buried under snow for about 45 minutes."

Allendorf told rescuers he was within a couple feet of his wife when the avalanche struck, Brandt said. Rescuers continued looking and found Colville 30 yards from where they found Allendorf.

But Brandt said she wasn't in an airspace, wasn't talking and wasn't responsive. "She was completely buried in snow," he said.

The Missoula Police Department is investigating and looking for witnesses as to what caused the avalanche. Police didn't return a call from The Associated Press on Saturday.

But Karkanen, who regularly investigates the causes of slides, said a snowboarder triggered it. The snowboarder was briefly caught in the avalanche himself but got himself out of it before it picked up speed, he said.

"It was an unsurvivable avalanche," Karkanen said. "He certainly would have been ground up had he been caught up in the avalanche."

Mount Jumbo is a winter game range managed by the city of Missoula and is closed to people in the winter, Karkanen said. The snowboarder came down the surface of the avalanche and helped with the rescue, and he also talked with police about what happened, he said.

"He wasn't trying to hide anything," said Karkanen, adding the snowboarder was likely unaware of local rules involving Mount Jumbo.

The avalanche in that area was extremely unusual, and likely took a unique series of events that have probably happened in the distant past but not since the valley had been settled, he said.

A thawing event last week caused the surface snow to melt and then freeze, forming an ice surface, Karkanen said. That was followed by more snow and winds that blew snow from the east face of Mount Jumbo to the west face, creating the conditions for the avalanche.

"It was a wind-loaded pocket," Karkanen said.

Join the discussion

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Devin March 03 2014 at 2:16 AM

How amazing is that? Something as amazing as this human interest story about a town coming to the rescue of a family that was struck in the middle of any other day kind of activities. And here comes the religious nuts, the snide comments and the ignorance behind a keyboard. Only in a free country can a group of ignorant people hide behind a computer and stab at a story that wasn't about religion, politics or gender. It was just humans saving humans.. Please, if I'm drowning.. walk away.. I'd hate for some poor innocent kid to be inspired by my story and end up tainted by you evil selfrighteous overbearing computer hiding snobs.. Absolutely disgusting..

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tigers578a Devin March 03 2014 at 2:39 AM

I am not sure are you insulting people who believe in God or are you insulting those who don't? Eithe way it sounds like you are one of those ignorant people who hide behind a keyboard and insult people. I am sure that if you are drowing someone would help you until you started spouting the garbage you are now and then religious or not they would toss you back.

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1 reply
Devin tigers578a March 03 2014 at 2:49 AM

I guess basic comprehension was tough for you in middle school. So im gonna put it this way.. My point was as follows.. Why is it about religion, ethnicity, monetary value, culture or sexual preference in a message board? .. and here is where it gets tricky. I was upset that people were taking away from the real truth. That a community didn't care about religion, ethnicity, monetary value, culture or sexual preference when they dug that hopefully healthy family out of that tragic event. So when i scroll down and see people being so ignorant about it and even nitpicking the story. It bothers me how they can say that behind the keyboards. When I read that story i was proud to be an american. Because when it gets tough. We stick together and get through it. But apparently if you get through it, it's ok for people to write horrible things about you because people with low comprehension skills comment on me, who was defending the story. Instead of the ignorant person that was beneath me, making it out to be a republicans/democratic debate. So thank you for being my "special" friend on spotlight tonight..

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Karine March 02 2014 at 3:00 PM

Thank god no one died ... May prayers go out to those that got hurt .. - And thank you to all those that helped ...

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Hansel March 02 2014 at 5:49 PM

I agree with Richard. A - a dumb snowboarder alone, on a slope. Why do some people think they are above the rules to protect others??? B - make the boarder join the Search & Rescue team for 3 years. C - the guy should provide a new house for the one he helped destroy.

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lwoody March 02 2014 at 2:47 PM

I wish those plugging their "stay at home and make $$$" would STOP making omments on these story sites!
To all the good neighbors, God bless you. This is almost unbelievable, been a tough Winter for all, across the whole nation. When I see this, I know I should stop complaining about having to shovel this year. I live downhill from Mt. Spokane, but I hope far enough to be out of danger. My thoughts and prayers are with the three for a full recovery.

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2 replies
groanup49 lwoody March 02 2014 at 3:00 PM


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Cat lwoody March 02 2014 at 4:42 PM

I agree!

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boonesbugs March 02 2014 at 6:52 PM

These homes are not located on the side of the mountain, but rather, at the base of the mountain.

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2 replies
Harlie & Jean boonesbugs March 02 2014 at 11:10 PM

I used to live just north of this area. who knows when things might happen.

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drewyer boonesbugs March 03 2014 at 4:41 AM


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lewesnanny March 02 2014 at 5:09 PM

Good job neighbors! That's what it's all about......helping one another!

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llrci2001 March 02 2014 at 8:29 PM

Hey Jen, you are the only folks I know in Missoula. Hoping you aren't involved with the avalanche, just the rescue.

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jgesselberty March 02 2014 at 12:39 PM

Puts the neighbor in neighborhood.

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1 reply
Galgy jgesselberty March 02 2014 at 2:42 PM

AMEN... I am shocked and just awe struck by how many people can live so close to each other these days and NEVER get to know their neighbors!!! It's a sad thing. I'm happy to say, I make an earnest effort to try to know all my neighbors, by sight and by name. You don't have to LIKE them... but you need to know WHO belongs and who is "Stranger danger" especially when kids live around. It's just a good thing to KNOW your neighbors!!! It's always been a way to show Americans are still a FRIENDLY people!! Take the opportunity to learn/meet your Neighbors. I remember a time when they had "Welcome Wagons", usually a town or city group who would show up at a new neighbors door with a basket of goods, and maps of the area, with information about the town/city they just moved into. Perhaps people should start those up again??? Anyone else have an opinion about this??? (sorry if this is a little off the main subject, and I'm very happy about people helping each other and the injured were found alive, and I hope they all survive)

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1 reply
goodgrief61945 Galgy March 02 2014 at 2:57 PM

I moved into a condo three years ago, and the neighbors on both sides have never even spoke to me. Cleaning their sidewalks of snow and ice, ain't happening any more!

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Matthew SHEEHAN March 02 2014 at 11:33 AM

Great To see the Neighborhood come together for this rescue . We just do not see this in the big cities anymore .

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2 replies
poshbaby4u Matthew SHEEHAN March 02 2014 at 11:48 AM

Semper Fidelis!!!! Only the Marines usually. Agree... GREAT to see!!!

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paumanok2 Matthew SHEEHAN March 02 2014 at 12:24 PM

I guess you were not in New York City for 9-11, or for that mater do you have a clue how life and the compassion that people have in cities for each other is all about. I guess you'd be amazed.

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al12exb March 02 2014 at 12:06 PM


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